President Donald Trump is hardly a master of rhetoric, though the one positive thing that can be said about the commander-in-chief’s tweeting habit is that he’s efficient. Really. Even without the new 280-character limit, Trump attaches adjectives to nouns like no one’s business. Very few people he tweets about escape without a description: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is “wonderful,” the news (or at least, the outlets who fairly scrutinize his actions as president) is “fake,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz is “nasty” and those who criticize the lack of action plaguing her hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico are “politically motivated ingrates.”
By definition, an “ingrate” is an ungrateful person.” This is interesting, because both the spoken and unspoken rules surrounding who should be grateful and who shouldn’t be seem to have penetrated the public conscience of late, beginning — if one can believe it — with the campaign of Trump himself. It was a campaign centered on woe, the pain of the “forgotten” white working class. Compared to the recent targets of Trump’s ire —the Puerto Ricans who “want everything to be done for them,” the players who don’t properly respect “the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL” and those who are brave enough to call the president out — there remains evident a clear racial discrepancy in how Trump perceives the people whom he has been elected to govern.
It’s worth comparing to the backlash surrounding Vanderbilt resident physician Eugene Gu’s recent tweet about kneeling in protest, which Tanya Chen outlined in her recent BuzzFeed article titled “People Are Claiming This Asian-American Doctor Who Took a Knee Is Too Privileged To Speak Out.” Gu, a prominent medical doctor and political advocate whose stance is famously anti-Trump, posted a picture of himself on Twitter kneeling with a raised fist, allying himself with the legions of athletes and sports personnel kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality. However, some of the criticism that arose over Gu’s post was curiously not about his activist views but instead about his race, with people asserting that because Gu achieved success as an Asian American (a person of color), he has no right to complain about perceived social injustices toward anybody else.
This is faulty logic, on many sides, but the gravest is the idea that if something does not directly affect one’s own life, then one should have no reason to have an opinion about it. For Americans of color, this idea is further damaging because it separates minorities into splinters, alienating their causes from each other and perpetuating the dominance of the white patriarchy. When public minority figures use their platforms to promote liberal ideas that benefit people beyond themselves, it draws a kind of ire because these figures are reminding the world of the fact that they are people of color.
The idea that one need only stand for oneself, without having to account for the community or race or country one’s family came from, is a perception exclusive to those who’ve always been allowed to be seen as individuals. And that is privilege. Money, material items, professional status: these items add to privilege, but they do not define it. And in a political climate as tumultuous as this, it accomplishes absolutely nothing to rip apart marginalized peoples’ achievements when there is so much progress left to be made.
Journalist Mark Harris recently tweeted: “Nothing triggers Trump more than perceived ingratitude from successful POCs. In his mind, they don’t achieve things; they are given things.”
And this is true. The word grateful connotes a person looking up at someone else, their hands pressed together in a kind of silent deference. In the macrocosmic view of things, framed around the idea of gratitude, exists the disturbing idea that it is a white man’s world and everyone else is just living in it — that minorities can be grateful or ungrateful, but what they cannot be is independent, fierce and fearless. That what they are always doing is taking from the hand or spitting in the face, when in actuality they hold as much right as anyone else in this country to bring their thoughts into the world.
Zoe Cheng is a junior majoring in writing for screen and television. Her column, “Cross Section,” runs Tuesdays.